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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review: The Reel Banditos - Indochina

The Reel Banditos - Indochina
2008, The Reel Banditos

Hamburg's The Reel Banditos have meshed together trip-hop, funk with theatrical themes and an organic sound as social commentary on a war that's been over for three-and-a-half decades. The War in Vietnam still inspires raw wounds two generations later, and Ernesto Diablo and Butch Loco do their best to capture the facts and feelings of that conflict on Indochina. The album is in your face and provocative without being preachy, letting your imagination fill in the visuals while it carries the listener along a story line most of us are familiar with.

Instrumental rock albums are among the hardest to review, and some of the most highly subjective out there. Music with vocals allows the composer/performer to shape your perceptions and ideas through lyrical content. Songwriting is a highly filtered process when lyrics are involved, as the lyrics set what are essentially parameters for the music (or vice versa). Instrumental composers are extremely courageous, hardy folks who allow you into their mind unfiltered. You get the totality of their creation as they perceived it, without words or inflicted images to define or obscure original intent.

The Reel Banditos' Indochina marks that part of history in no uncertain terms; painting musical collages that speak to the heart of the listener rather than the mind. The creation and shaping belong to The Reel Banditos, the images inspired by the music belong to the listener alone. The ultimate measure of success is whether the listener is inspired by the music to begin to see the story as it unfolded, or is suggested by the subtle manipulation of sounds and silence to construct each movement or song.

If the purpose here was to build understanding/appreciation for the Vietnam era, then The Reel Banditos have overreached. If, as with many art forms, the purpose is to spark "something" in the listener, then I would say Indochina is a moderate success. The music is very modern. The occasional sound effects suggesting a phone or a helicopter are simply sonic garnish. The music is unique and original and worth listening to. My personal favorite track is Huey, which has a funky guitar working in tandem with electronic instrumentation. Also be sure to check out Poisoned Sky.

The Reel Banditos show an ability to mix rock and electronic music in a way that's more vibrant than many attempts I've heard. Ultimately I don't think it matters whether the themes or ideas you take from Indochina are the ones The Reel Banditos intended. The fact that you, the listener, take something from the experience is a palpable plus, and reflective of the talent, time and quality here. Indochina is a unique and interesting listen with real life to it. It’s a fine offering.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Reel Banditos at You can purchase a copy of Indochina at

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